There is always something new in American cooking. I’ve had a book that I have been meaning to read and I finally got to it this past weekend. I took “The New American Cooking” to the beach with me, not expecting to like it too much, and was pleasantly surprised. Even though the book was published in 2005, the recipes are still exciting.
The author, Joan Nathan, has written 10 cookbooks; I have a number of them, but somehow never really got to this one. You can see from the photo that I found a good number of recipes to try—usually when I am reading a cookbook for the first time, I mark the interesting recipes with a Post-it. This time, all I had was my needlepoint yarn (which you can see sticking up from the top of the book)—but it worked.
Nathan has won numerous awards; this book won both the James Beard and the IACP Award for Food of the Americas and Best American Cookbook. What I found particularly interesting about “The New American Cooking” were the stories that accompanied each recipe. Our huge influx of people from all over Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America has brought all sorts of new ideas to our standard American cooking.
These include exotic flavors, little known herbs and condiments, and new cooking techniques. Nathan crisscrossed the country talking to a variety of people, from organic farmers to artisanal bread bakers and cheese makers, home cooks and new-wave chefs. The result is a collection of well written (and tested) recipes that put just a little different slant on traditional dishes.
One that intrigued me was her corn with pesto butter. “Summertime,” she says, “means huge amounts of corn and pesto.” From a farmstand in Deerfield, she got a recipe for a pesto butter to serve with Silver King butter and sugar corn. I bought a couple of ears from Tony Andrews’ Farm here in Falmouth and made the pesto butter to slather over the hot corn.
It was really good—so good that I used it the next night to sauté some wax beans with cherry tomatoes, and the next night I mixed some with boiled new potatoes. Truly a keeper of a recipe! Nathan said she served this at a small party she threw for Julia Child’s 90th birthday, where it was a huge success.
Back to the corn for a moment: I now cook my corn in the husks, in the microwave, on high for about 4 minutes (for two ears). When the corn is done, I take it out (carefully, it’s very hot) and hold the top down with a towel while I cut off the stem. The husk and silk just peel right off, and voilà, you have fully cooked corn without boiling, steaming, or grilling. Who knew?
In addition to time-honored American favorites, this book contains recipes for dishes such as Malaysian swordfish satays, gazpacho with sashimi, and couscous from Timbuktu (with dates and lamb). My only regret is that I didn’t get to it sooner. It’s definitely the kind of book you want to cook your way through, so it’s now earned a spot on my kitchen shelf.
Nathan says she wanted to explore the positive aspect of American food today, and she has succeeded. She encourages us to be more flexible, more open to different ideas, and tells this story: “Not long ago, at a particularly delicious luncheon at a friend’s house, the hostess described the spread as an ‘American menu’: heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella salad with a ribbon of fresh pesto, chicken satay with peanut sauce, Greek salad with feta cheese, and Asian sesame noodles.”
Here are a few of the recipes from the book that I think will become “traditionally American” at my table. I have chosen those that use the seasonal ingredients now available at our local farm stands and markets.
1 loaf day-old rustic-style white bread, torn into irregular pieces (crusts included), about 2 cups
2 to 3 ripe, juicy tomatoes, cut into half-inch pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and diced, seeds removed, and cut into ½-inch pieces
Half a red onion, cut into quarter-inch dice
1 cup torn greens (arugula, frisée, or watercress)
3 TBSP pesto (store-bought is fine)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP white balsamic vinegar
Toss the bread with the tomatoes in a mixing bowl; let stand a few minutes while the bread absorbs the juices. Using your hands, blend in the cucumbers, onions, greens, and pesto and remove to a colorful plate. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the salad and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.
Roasted Beet Salad With Cumin And Parsley
6 to 8 beets, scrubbed, bottoms attached and greens trimmed
2 tsp plus 4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp each: cumin and paprika
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Place the beets in an oiled 9-by-13-inch baking dish and drizzle with 2 tsp oil; bake in a preheated 350°F oven for an hour, uncovered, until tender with pierced with a fork. Let the beets cool, then peel them and cut them into bite-sized pieces; place them in a salad bowl and drizzle with remaining oil and lemon juice. Season with cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste; let stand a while before serving, or cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve, taste and adjust the seasonings; sprinkle with parsley just before serving.
Corn With Pesto Butter
2 to 4 fat garlic cloves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup grated imported Parmesan cheese
½ cup butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
Pulse the garlic with the basil in the bowl of a food processor; then add the cheese and butter and pulse just until the butter is blended. Scrape into a small container and refrigerate until ready to use; slather over hot ears of corn, or toss with other hot, cooked vegetables.
Israeli Couscous With Pine Nuts And Fresh Herbs
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Israeli couscous
4 cups chicken broth or water
2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
2 TBSP chopped fresh mixed herbs such as lemon thyme and rosemary
½ cup toasted pine nuts
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion, celery and garlic until the onions are translucent; add the couscous and stir until browned. Stir in the chicken broth and half the herbs; bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the couscous is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the couscous with a fork and season with salt and pepper; turn onto a platter and sprinkle with the remaining herbs and the toasted pine nuts and serve hot or at room temperature.
Fruit Salad With Ginger And Mint
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 apple, diced
1 pint blueberries
1 cup diced honeydew melon
1 cup diced cantaloupe
1 cup red or green grapes
2 TBSP chopped fresh mint
Make the syrup by boiling the water, sugar and ginger for 20 minutes, until reduced by half; set aside to cool. Toss the fruit in a bowl and add a few tablespoons of the ginger syrup; sprinkle with mint and serve.